Thursday, December 1, 2016

Blog Hop: Couples therapy

I spotted this one and couldn't resist, even if it was from October.

So, how does your current (or past) trainer manage the partnership/relationship between you and your horse(s)?

This is an interesting question for me, since Trainer A knew Theo before she met me.  She'd worked with and occasionally ridden Theo for years before I wandered in the door.  She already had a pre-set notion of him and knew his history.  She knew he was opinionated, held a grudge, and could not be pushed.  If he got angry with his rider, the ride was over for the rider's safety.  Riders that tried to fight with him did not last long.  I, on the other hand, was a mystery.  She got to know me as I got to know Theo. 

Fast forward a year and a half and we have the current situation.  At this point, she knows both of us, I know Theo, and Theo knows me.  I'm a strong personality, Theo's a strong personality, and the combination of the two makes or breaks most of our rides.  We both have tempers that can become violent, though most see us as very laid back.  Managing moods and communication isn't an option, it's a major component.  She'll ask me what is going on with Theo while I'm riding, since I've been actively studying his body language for some time now.  He's bored, he's tired, he's frustrated, he's happy, he's eager, he's plotting my death.  I know how to speak papi and she lets me translate.  Papi also knows how to speak Catie.  He knows when I'm pleased, when I'm amused, and when he's pushing my limits.

Trainer A considers the relationship between me and Theo to be very important and she actively manages it every time she sees us.  She supported my somewhat controversial decision to use food rewards with him while riding because it made him associate his work (and me) with good things.  I couldn't get anywhere with him if he saw me negatively.  She's the one that originally chased me out into solo trail rides, even though Theo hated them, so that we would learn to trust each other.  She encouraged us to build up a relationship that was more than him doing what I told him to do. 

Some rides require more management of our relationship than others, of course.  When doing a position lesson, Theo is good to just march around and daydream about sugar cubes dipped in caramel.  When we're challenging him mentally or physically, we both have to keep a close eye on the barometer.  If I've had a bad day at work, if I'm slamming into a mental wall I can't seem to get through, if Theo has really got my goat, she'll step in the manage the relationship in that direction as well.  She's very aware of how quickly the two of us can escalate. 

I probably wouldn't be as successful with Theo if my trainer wasn't so willing to consider us as a couple and not as two separate entities.  We're not separate entities.  We have a complicated relationship made up of compromise and trust built over many miles.  My relationship with mi papi is more important to me than any score sheet and she enjoys watching us grow as a pair as much as she enjoys seeing us advance in our training.  She's enjoyed watching the two of us take on new challenges together and depend on each other when things get tough.

I consider myself quite lucky to have Trainer A to shepherd us along and intervene when we need some couples therapy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016 goals wrap up

It's still pouring buckets out there.  And tonight is my completion of No Stirrup November.  Oh, and my thighs hurt from my incredibly dumb idea I had on Monday where I'd propel myself along with nothing chasing me.

The chug went with me on my shuffle, she can't figure out what I'm whining about

I need a mood lift.  I think it's time to wrap up my 2016 goals.  Here is what I put in my post from last year:

1.  Qualify for the Region 8 Championships at Training Level
2.  Actually go to the Regional Championships
3.  Get my last First Level score for my Bronze
     - Fi's scores didn't count because I was showing opportunity classes.  Fail.
4.  Complete a three phase with less than 100 faults on cross country
5.  Do two clinics

Stretch goals:
1.  Score a 60%+ at First Level 3 so I can do musical freestyle in 2017
2.  Do a clean cross country

 How did we do?  Not bad!

1.  Qualify for the Region 8 Championships at Training Level - We totally did this and even did this on schedule.  We had some off performances, but we didn't struggle too much with getting our scores.  We even had a spare one and got to move up to First level.

2.  Actually go to the Regional Championships - We did it!  It was overwhelming and gave me a serious case of stage fright, but the important thing is that we did it and we didn't embarrass Trainer A.  We marched in the biggest ring I've ever ridden in and lived to tell the tale.

3.  Get my last First Level score for my Bronze - Yuppers!  Theo successfully moved up to First level.  Our First 1 scores have been respectable, First 2 had a spook (we only did it once), and First 3 I wanted to puke because I was at regionals.  But we weren't laughed out of the ring at any of these outings and we even got some ribbons.

4.  Complete a three phase with less than 100 faults on cross country - This I did not do.  After getting to know Theo, I decided to retire him from cross country.  We did take him out for a two phase which he rocked, but three phases are no longer a goal for us.

5.  Do two clinics - Just barely.  We did the Leslie Grandmaison clinic in the spring and we have a clinic on Monday with Gerrit-Claes Bierenbroodspot.  I don't know much about him, but one of my h/j friends is hosting the clinic so Trainer A and I are driving down for a lesson.  He's got clients up to Grand Prix level, so I'm looking forward to the experience.  Trainer A is bringing Miss Thang so we can both ride First Level horses that are eyeballing Second level.  

We didn't do quite as well on the stretch goals.

1.  Score a 60%+ at First Level 3 so I can do musical freestyle in 2017 - Nope.  We only did one test at this level, I choked, and we got a 57%.  But that's okay, we'll get that 60% in 2017 and do our freestyle.

2.  Do a clean cross country - Nope, very retired from cross country.

3.  BUY THEO - YES!  This one I did!  And all joking aside, I do not regret it.  He is the horse I need today, a steady partner that doesn't bring a lot of drama to my life.  He's not stunning, he's not overly talented, but he is compatible with me, willing, and capable of the work.  He jumps the jumps, he hauls to the shows, and he learns the fancy moves.  He's my boy and I love him.

So I'd say we had a successful year, especially for Theo's debutante season.  He's gone from being a green bean with a history of jumping out of rings to being an experienced show horse that knows his job.  There's so many skills he had to learn that have nothing to do with scores from judges.  Just dealing with life as a competition horse is a skill.  Going around the outside of the ring before the test was the hardest thing for us to learn, but we got a solid start on it.

I'll have to think hard about my 2017 goals.  I have so many, I'm in danger of over facing us both.  Thankfully Trainer A will tell me to knock it off if I sign up for too much or push to hard.  Or Theo will.  Because he does not take me being crazy with grace.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Go away, Jack Frost

I'm not a big fan of the cold.  Sure, I'm from Minnesota, but I'm still a weenie.  As I stood in the pouring rain with mi papi, hunched down under my rain coat and him under his rain sheet, I considered how dumb my hobby is.  Sure, we were heading into the indoor, but I still had to slop through the icy mud to retrieve my muddy pony.  Then we slogged down to the indoor and slogged back up while the sky dumped buckets on us.  At least it's not the ice from this morning, that was exciting while feeding the poultry.  I need to get the chains back on the tractor tires.

Pretty sure hubby was watching from the window with his coffee, laughing his butt off, as I slid across the driveway.

No Stirrups November is bad enough without getting chills.  Fortunately I've got a routine that keeps me from completely freezing.  Today's topic:  How I survive winter.

Step one:  Base layers.  Base layers are everything wonderful and beautiful.  If I have the right thermals on, I can make it through anything.  I learned this when working in a barn through a New England winter.  Stomping through a blizzard to toss extra blankets on school horses really puts your gear to the test.  My brand of choice?  Duofold.

This one, right here, is a life saver.  I have some mid weight for slightly chilly days, heavy weight for this time of year when it's 30's while I'm riding, and the expedition weight for the dead of winter.  The pants fit under my breeches, I just wear my socks over top of them so they don't ride up while putting my breeches on.  I don't have winter breeches, I use the same old Piper full seats year round.  I just put different thermal underwear on as the seasons change.  My Duofolds have held up for years with heavy use, I've shed down to my thermal top on several occasions and no one noticed.  Looks like a nice, fitted top.  I have found nothing better at the price point.

Step two:  Down.  I didn't want to bother with buying down until I got my first down vest.  It really, really does make a difference.  I have a couple down vests now.  EMS is my usual source, since I get my hiking gear from them, but I spy a down vest from Ariat at Smartpak.  A thermal top, a flannel button down shirt, and a warm vest will have me riding while showing my position to my trainer through most of the winter.  I'll still need a jacket when it's 10* out, but at those temps, my trainer is too busy shivering and hating her life to care if she can see my back clearly.  I wear a jacket to the ring, but dump it once we're warmed up and ready to work. 

Step three:  Silk and wool socks.  Wool socks alone will help a lot, but with a silk liner?  Toasty warm!  I don't always have winter boots.  Okay, I usually don't have winter boots for riding.  Bulky boots make me uncomfortable, I'm scared I'll get stuck in a stirrup.  Layering up my socks can keep me from freezing in my usual boots.  I always struggle to find silk liners in women's sizes, so that might be a challenge. 

Also, look for reflective inserts for your boots.  Makes a world of difference when walking around on the frozen ground.  You don't feel the cold seeping in through the soles of your boots.  I get mine at Tractor Supply for cheap.

The one thing that I haven't figured out?  Barn gloves for winter.  Any recommendations?  My fingers are always cold and they ache.  I had some insulated gloves, but a bit of snow and they're wet and worthless.  Next week is showing snow so the situation is becoming dire!

Theo tries to kick me when I stuff my ice cold hands under his blankets.  Can't say I blame him.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Get in shape, girl

Yes, I'm dating myself.  Hopefully someone else is old enough to get that reference.

Back last winter, I committed to losing some weight.  And I managed it, which was awesome.  I felt better in the saddle (less jiggling) and felt like I could keep up with mi papi.  And my coats fit better in pictures.  Go me!  But as the winter comes crashing back in, I've lost some ground.  And I'm also discovering that the higher the level, the more cardio and endurance I need.  I did a five minute canter block in my lesson last week and was feeling the burn.  It wasn't muscle burn so much as just running out of steam from trying to keep papi picked up, balanced, and going forward.  Oxygen was in short supply.  I recently got a Fitbit that tracks my heart rate.  My resting heart rate is a little high for a woman my age.  That was enlightening in regards to my fitness levels.

That's what my lesson looked like (Fitbit always thinks I'm going for a run).  The actual lesson was more like 40 minutes of work, but this was the middle when we were doing long trot and canter sets and my Fitbit recorded it as a workout.  Cantering Theo around puts me in the cardio range for my heart rate.  Once Theo sheds out, I can do heart rate charts for both of us during the same ride!  The pads for his heart rate monitor can't pick up his pulse through that much hair.  But the take away is that my fitness needs work.  I can't be sitting in the cardio range just from cantering. 

I registered for a 5k on Super Bowl Sunday.

I'm going to use the Couch to 5K app to get myself in shape over the next 8 weeks so I can jog/shuffle three miles (this one in case anyone is curious, though the running from zombies app was tempting).  Outside.  In February.  I've had better ideas.  But our days are so short.  I need the motivation to go outside in the middle of the day and see the sun.  I can do a 30 min jog over lunch.  It's probably the best thing for shaking the seasonal funk that comes when the sun disappears.

Today starts week one.  I'll be doing 3 workouts a week, plus my 5 rides a week.  On the days I don't ride, I'll jog.  And one day a week, I'll have to do both.  Yikes.

For anyone noticing that I live in New Hampshire and it's pretty much winter now, I'm going to be using my base layers from riding at those ridiculous temperatures to allow me to jog in them.  Our dirt road is well plowed, so that will give me a spot to shuffle along.  Or I can go into town, but I'd rather not.  That would be an hour in the car to jog for 30 minutes.  And I'd be encouraged to stop at Dunks for a hot chocolate to celebrate.  I could really entertain everyone and jog from the barn.  Just when they thought they'd figured out how crazy I am.

It's pretty horse related, but I'm mostly posting this here for the accountability.  I've given myself December and January to prep for my very first 5k.  Feb 5 I will go run for no good reason other than a pint of beer waiting for me at the end.  Did I mention the race is sponsored by a local brewery that I love?  Now that's motivation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trail horse dressage

I had an idea today while taking Theo out for a long trail ride.  We need a trail class for dressage horses.

Wait, hear me out.

What are dressage horses good at?  Changing speeds, rebalancing, halting, going sideways, and paying attention.  Most dressage horses have considerable experience with stepping over things and changing the length of their stride as needed.  Sounds like a great trail horse to me! 

While hacking out dressage horses has become more common (thank you, Charlotte Dujardin, for encouraging this trend), it's still seen as slightly odd.  And when looking for training for a trail horse, most people default to western styles.  Sure, western styles produce good trail horses, but so can dressage.  And I've had several ladies tell me they much prefer going out in a dressage saddle.  It weighs a lot less while still making them feel secure.  There's a niche here that could use some attention.

So how do we display our horses as something other than hot house flowers that can't do anything but look gorgeous in a sand box?  Offer a trail class at dressage shows!  I've seen this done at open shows and it's perfectly feasible.  Just set up a course and people can pop by whenever it's convenient for them and run through it.  Since it's still a dressage show, remove the speed component and add scores for gaits and submission.  You have X amount of time to complete an obstacle, then you must move on.  You are expected to demonstrate dressage basics while navigating uneven poles, opening a gate, or weaving around poles. 

Can you imagine a beautiful, upper level horse in full show gear navigating a bridge?  Or neatly picking his way through a set of rough, uneven poles?  If we're going to spend all of these hours teaching our horses to be obedient and easily changed, why not show off the practical applications?  I know I would pop over and try the course while at a dressage show and it would encourage me to work my horse on obstacles at home.  Sure, it would mostly cater to the intro and training level horses, but even then it would encourage them to come out and show because there's something fun to go with the dry test stuff.

On today's trail ride, Theo did about 100 small leg yields as I kept him off the rocky footing that the leaf cover was hiding.  He very neatly stepped over small logs (without launching or rushing).  He picked up to a working walk when we found a dog and hiker so we could assess the situation.  He turned on the haunches to change direction when we hit the highway.  We went from walk to canter, kept the canter short due to other hikers being around, and stepped back to the walk without fuss.  We slalomed through trees.  How is this not the goal of a trail horse's training?  Maybe if your trails are mostly wide and smooth you don't need these things.  I live in New Hampshire.  Teaching your horse to sit on his butt for a downhill is a survival skill.

Maybe I'm just jealous of the girls going to the open shows that have the option to do trail classes.  Or the versatility classes.  Maybe I think we'd be able to convince some of the ladies at the barn to participate in dressage if they could see it as a way to help their trail riding instead of being some fancy dancy thing with sparkly coats and expensive horses.  Maybe I want to see some of my fellow DQs kick back and have some fun with their horses.  Probably all of the above.

But dang it all, we need a trail horse class at dressage shows. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Before I even start, this is a bad idea.  Don't do it.  Especially if your trainer can see you and think it's very clever and shows initiative.  You've been warned!

Back when I was an h/j rider, I spent a fair bit of time with a dressage whip behind my back and in front of my elbows.  This was to get my shoulders back and bring my elbows in close to my sides.  I'm sure I'm not the only one that's gone through that particular type of torture.

Well, that's spiffy and all, but now I do the dressage thing and my elbows aren't supposed to be back that far.  They should be at my sides, but not that far back.  I've been struggling so much with getting them forward and still close to my sides.  The phrase that currently works to remind me?  "Squish your boobs!"

For the record, I'm a D cup.  They stick out more than my rib cage on the sides and most sports bras make them flat, but they get wider.  There's nothing I can do about it.

So what do I do when I'm not in a lesson so there's no one to yell about my boobs?  I really should get one of these things.

But I'm perpetually horse poor, so I took the obvious, free option as inspired by my h/j days.  I put my dressage whip in front of me, across my rib cage just below my bra, and behind my elbows.  This forces my elbows to stay more forward, forces me to not hollow my back (I need some tummy to keep the whip from falling), and forces me to keep my elbows at my sides.

I wasn't sure it would work, but I managed to do my walk warm up and some of my trot work like that.  My shoulders are not pleased with this new way of going, but it forced me to figure out how to get a contact with Theo without dropping my hands.  Trainer A spotted my silliness and thought it was a genius idea.  Guess who's going to have to start carrying a whip down to the ring again?

This girl.

I'm a masochist.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dietary restrictions

No, not mine.  I'll rant about my yo-yo waistline another day.  This one is about Theo, his changing needs, and trying to find a balance between energy and psychosis.  Buckle up for a lot of percentages.

Mi papi is low energy.  And that's been specifically maintained in his past.  High energy Theo is a lot of horse to handle and is not appropriate for a school horse.  I've met high energy Theo a couple of times.  I enjoy it, but I know I'm making the fuse shorter on the powder keg.  It requires careful handling and you don't want it to be inconsistent.  I want him to have a slow burning, cool energy source.  Make the work seem easier to him while not making him crazy.  It's everyone's dream, of course, and rarely achieved completely.

Wake up, papi

I'll admit that I never really looked into Theo's diet after I bought him.  Bad, owner, bad.  He's the first time I've bought a horse that I've known before that purchase decision was made.  He was already settled into a routine that had served him well for about two years.  When I started riding him regularly, he started to lose weight.  They upped his grain, I added a supplement pack, and eventually we added a fat and protein supp as well.  I bought him but left his food alone.  I'm generally in the camp of not messing with stuff that's not broken.

However, the demands on Theo keep increasing.  He's far from a plodding school pony now.  He's expected to work 45 minutes to an hour six days a week, and it's not walk/trot lessons.  He canters in five minute blocks, he does transition sets that are like weightlifting.  He burns calories and has to rebuild muscle.  While he's made a lot of progress, there's a certain amount of bloom that hasn't occurred.  I can't put my finger on it, but I feel like something is missing, a block that he needs in his foundation.

I decided to dig into his diet and see where improvements can be made.  I expected a nutritional limit was keeping him from really blooming.

Hay:  Grass hay two times a day, approximately 24lbs a day
Grain: Mane Menu twice a day, 2 lbs a feeding, 0.5 pounds of Omegatin once a day
Supplements: SmartCombo Ultra Pellets
Pasture: Turned out on grass pasture several times a week in season, no real grass 5 months of the year, NH sucks that way

First thing I did was look up Mane Menu.  It's meant for horses in maintenance or light performance.  11% protein, 3% fat, 15% fiber.  Starch content isn't listed anywhere but if it's anything like it's close sibling Strider, it's pretty high (Strider is 33% NSC).  A good choice for a horse that's getting limited grain and is in a school program as a beginner specialist, but it's the bargain level stuff.  There's a lot of molasses and ground corn while there's no specification on the type of protein.

There's problem number one.  The protein in his diet is too low and isn't high enough quality.  Lysine is a limiter and there's no percentage of lysine given for his grain.  The grass hay he's on isn't high protein either, probably 9% (hasn't been tested this year, the drought has hay supplies kind of thin).   At four pounds of grain a day, he's on the minimum recommended grain ration for his size for that brand.  Even with the 15% protein Omegatin being added, it's not enough.  A horse in work like him should be at about 10% - 12% protein total for his diet, including the hay.  Theo was clocking in at 9.3% and probably deficient in specific amino acids.

There's also the matter of him being half Percheron while needing increased energy.  Perchs aren't known for their ability to process starches correctly.  Drafts in general are prone to that little family of disorders most often listed as EPSM.  I've met a couple of drafts with variations on this complicated disorder.  Sore muscles and tying up are the usual symptoms.  Starch is also fun for causing blood sugar swings and related mood swings.  Not exactly the type of energy source I'm looking for.  Theo doesn't need encouragement in being a jerk.

 Very attractive jerk horse

The Omegatin is a 15% protein, 20% fat, low starch (14%) top dress I threw on when he was showing this summer.  It was a chunk of calories to help him keep his condition up while on the road while not encouraging him to explode.  I decided to leave him on it year round in the hopes that he'd build up a bit.  The SmartCombo supp is their standard combination of hoof, joint, coat, digestion.  It just makes my life easier and I like to make sure all of my nutritional bases are covered.  Yes, he has expensive pee.

After doing a ridiculous amount of research and math, Theo's new diet is as follows.

Hay: Grass hay two times a day, approximately 24lbs a day (six flakes)
Grain: CarbGuard twice a day, 2 lbs per feeding, 0.5lbs of Omegatin per feeding
Supplements: SmartCombo Ultra Pellets
Pasture: Turned out on grass pasture several times a week in season, no pasture 5 months of the year

This should get Theo's protein up to about 9.6% of his total diet without affecting his total calories.  CarbGuard also includes supplemental amino acids, so I know he's getting the right kind of protein.  This grain is 12% protein, 8% fat, and 25% fiber.  The starch is very low, about 8%.  This should swap him from quick burn sugars to slow burn fats and fiber for his energy sources.  If he settles into this without problems, we'll move him up to 5lbs of CarbGuard a day.  That should get his calories where they belong for light/moderate work and push his protein close to the 10% mark.

The question will be how his energy levels change.  My data is a bit jumbled as it's also going into winter and a lot of horses are being snorty and up.  Not mi papi, of course, because that would be work and work is dumb.  I feel like our relationship and work is at a point where we can handle him being a bit snorty and fresh.  He's not a lesson horse anymore and the occasional incident is okay in exchange for having some impulsion.  And I'd have to kick less.  That would be awesome.

Seriously, wake up

The change is being done gradually, he's currently on half CarbGuard.  So far no difference, but I take that as a good sign.  I expect, once he's moved over and his body is used to using fat instead of starch, that I'll be able to up his energy without him blowing his little pony lid.  It's going to be a matter of carefully tuning his diet to get him the stuff he needs without upping his calories too much.  I don't want my little air fern to get fat.  I expect he'll be getting 5 - 6 pounds of grain a day and that I'll be messing with the ratios between CarbGuard and Omegatin to dial it in to what he needs. 

This whole project has been kind of insane.  I've got sheets of calculations, printed out grain labels, and a 'what if' spreadsheet.  I'm starting to think I might be a bit obsessive about my horse.